By Aju Mukhopadhyay


veils

Veils, Halos and Shackles, an international anthology of poetry was conceived in the wake of the gang rape and torture of Jyoti Singh Pandey (a physiotherapy student) by six brutes in a moving bus in New Delhi on the night of December 16, 2012, resulting in her death in a few days. It contains 250 poems by 180 poets, most of whom are women except some two dozen male voices living in different countries of the world. Most of the contributors are from the Indian subcontinent and the United States of America. It is for the first time that poets have opened their hearts and expressed their feelings about different forms of oppression and torture on women and the ways of their empowerment on such a large scale, making a global impact of the grave issue.

Indian women poets were heard for the first time in the Vedas (Sukta) in ancient time. Then the women monks of the Buddhist order also wrote some poetry followed by their progeny at different historical times flowing down to the modern age. To speak about the continuance of such enterprises we can mention one anthology that reached my hands. Roots and Wings (Ed. Annie George and Sandhya S N. Thiruvananthapuram: Roots and Wings. 2011. Paperback) is an anthology of 350 poems by 42 Indian woman poets from almost all the states of India. Though it does not concentrate on woman abuse of different types, their free voices are heard here; they speak about their problems including male domination and torture in different ways; ways of woman’s freedom in patriarchal society. Veils, Halos and Shackles is one of the largest projects in modern time. It has gained esteem as the woman’s hope for a better future.

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By Atharva Pandit

farthest-field

The story of India’s involvement in the Second World War is a story untold, so that its history — and in one sense India’s collective history — has “remained unopened and unknown, until it rotted”. Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, the Iranian novelist, meant those words for Iran, but they are universal, and Raghu Karnad has recognized them to be so, pulling this vital bit of history out of its rot. In Farthest Field, Karnad has dusted this history up for us, and presented it to us in a better form than perhaps anybody else would have, in part because this is also his personal history.

We don’t know of the exact moment the war came to India, or rather the exact moment when the Indians realized that the Panzers and the Heinkels might land up at their doorsteps, but Karnad tells us, in the very first sentence, that the news of the war reached Calicut “along with the morning eggs”. And then:

“Perhaps that isn’t true at all. Perhaps it’s only true that the price of the eggs was the first the Calicut Parsis saw of the costs of war; the first of many. Maybe they remembered what happened to the price of the eggs, even years and years later, because they wanted to forget what happened to the boys.”

And what happened to the boys? That is precisely the story, along with the story of India’s involvement in WW2, that Farthest Field wants to tell, and it’s a vast story with little documentation, which is one of the reasons why readers instantly believe in the capacity of this book to inform.

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By Amir Ullah Khan

Vijay Mahajan has been researching neglected markets for over two decades. His first work on this issue pointed out that Africa was rising. The second discussed the 86 per cent solution where the corporate world focuses only on the top 14% of the world and now must look at the rest. Mahajan’s third stated that the Arab World was a large market indeed. His latest that releases this month talks of the rural consumer in ten countries with the largest rural populations, with India leading the pack. The book titled Rise of Rural Consumers in Developing Countries: Harvesting 3 Billion Aspirations discusses the strategies being used to reach 3 billion rural consumers in developing countries, a vibrant, aware and aspirational market yet untapped.

The argument Vijay makes is that it is forward-looking companies and NGOs with a rural DNA that are developing inclusive strategies that take them beyond developed country markets and urban centres into a vast space that holds tremendous potential. This is not really the Bottom of the Pyramid model that CK Prahalad has pointed out. There it was the poorest level in the income hierarchy that was targeted. Here Mahajan talks of the rural, which includes people with high disposable incomes and huge unmet demands.

The rural top ten countries are India, China, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Egypt and Philippines. The United States actually comes ninth in this list with a 60 million rural population but is excluded for obvious reasons. The GDP of these ten countries chosen comes to 15 trillion dollars with a large informal economy that thrives and does not get reflected in these GDP calculations. The rural are migrating to cities, but even then, by 2050, rural areas will contain more than a third of the world population.

by Rabeea Saleem

book-coverThe Association of Small Bombs’ by Karan Mahajan

Hardcover: 288 pages

Publisher: Viking (March 22, 2016)

Language: English

“The Khuranas, in the past few years, had started taking a morbid interest in blasts in all parts of the country, especially Delhi – they were excited by these bombings in a way that only victims of esoteric, infrequent tragedies are motivated by horrors.”

Karan Mahajan’s latest book begins with a 1996 bombing in Delhi, India at a crowded marketplace, Lajpat Nagar. In the violence-riddled world of South Asia, the significance of a calamity is only as big as its magnitude. Every tragedy is relative to its body count and so in the grander scheme of things, this bombing is referred to as “a bomb of small consequences”. It still kills hundreds but because of the low profile site, it doesn’t get as much traction from media as say, the Boston bombing, which, because of its location alone supersedes dozens of small bombs that go off in third world countries at a frighteningly high frequency.

This bombing results in the death of Tushar and Nakul, the only children of the Khuranas. They had gone with their best friend, Mansoor, who is significantly a Muslim, to collect an old television from the repair shop. This detail is something which later the Khuranas are compelled to lie about to maintain their middle-class status because admitting this act of scrimping to their upper caste friends would indulge their sympathies in a way they didn’t want. Mahajan homes in on how important it is to maintain the ego-driven financial status in middle-class society, even when faced with such a potent grief.

Review of Hamraz Ahsan’s, Kabuko the Djinn in The Express Tribue

“When you were born, wailing and shaking with rage at your expulsion from the comfort of the womb, did you know, in your tiny infant brain, the exact trajectory of your life? Had you already decided in which events would shape you and how your personality would be? Had you decided on who would be your first love and who would be your last? Is that how it happens with humans? I have been very curious to know, you see. I am Kabuko. Kabuko the djinn.’’

By Zafar Anjum

The Aryavarta Chronicles, Book 1: GOVINDA, by Krishna Udayasankar, New Delhi: Hachette India, 472 pp, paperback. $25.

I remember reading an interview of the late Chilean author Roberto Bolano in which he said that in the third world countries, blooming of literary fiction precedes mushrooming of genre fiction. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing in itself, I won’t go into that (perhaps one needs both?) but this is how the literary scene has evolved in India.

First, there were the R K Narayans and the Raja Raos, then there were the Naipauls, the Anita Desais, and Kamala Markandayas and then came the generation of new diaspora writers such as Rushdie, Vikram Seth and others. At home, the Stephanians ruled the roost for a time but with the liberalization of the Indian economy and the rise of a new Indian middle class, slowly and steadily Indian writing in English, largely an upper middle class phenomenon, went down a slippery slope.

Then came along Chetan Bhagat, the writer-prophet of this newly minted middle class. His novels found a bridge with India’s youth. Since his arrival on the scene, there has been a deluge of fiction from all kinds of hacks. Suddenly, Indian writing in English has become accessible to anyone who knows how to read a sentence in English. Today, home-grown Indian writers are writing sci-fi novels and thrillers and there are writers who specialize in chick lit and teen lit (I’m sure Clitlit will follow soon after the success of Fifty Shades of Grey). The number of books sold by these authors has jumped through the roof and publishers, both desi and foreign, are only too happy to encash this trend.

One of the genres that have bloomed during this revolution is that of mythology or the retelling of stories from India’s past. Today, there are many leading names in this genre. Amish Tripathi’s The Immortals of Meluha has become such a runaway hit that a famous Bollywood film director has bought its film rights. I am tempted to place Krishna Udayasankar’s debut novel’s Govinda (The Aryavarta Chronicles, #1) in this category but perhaps I should not.

This is not a junk-food-novel. A few pages into the novel and you know you are reading a well-researched work, a work of mytho-history.

Come, Before Evening Falls by Manjul Bajaj
Hachette India , 238 pages
Price: Rs.295

Manjul Bajaj’s debut novel is a strong, passionate story well told.  The author offers insights into the culture, history and psyche of the Jat people of northern India’s heartland. Set in a Jat hamlet near Delhi in 1909, this is a tale of proud, upright men and women who will die to uphold the honor of family, community and country. The subtle feminist approach works well with full blooded women juxtaposed against well fleshed out and likeable male characters. The novel begins as a smoldering love story, with the threat of deadly social taboos simmering in the backdrop. The author interweaves social practices which sadly continue even today in pockets of rural India, such as the terrible practice of honor killings.